Indian scientists detect crack in Earth’s magnetic shield

Plasma from the solar corona strikes the planet

Business & Politics

November 4, 2016

/ By / New Delhi

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A team of Indian scientists in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu recorded an explosion of galactic cosmic rays indicating a crack in the Earth’s magnetic shield. Moving at a speed of about 2.5 million kilometres per hour, the explosion caused a severe compression of the magnetosphere.

A burst of galactic cosmic rays, indicating a crack in the Earth’s atmosphere, has been detected by Indian scientists. The world’s largest and most sensitive cosmic ray monitor located in India recorded the happening. The burst is being said to have occurred when a giant cloud of plasma ejected from the solar corona struck Earth at a very high speed causing massive compression of the Earth’s magnetosphere and triggering a severe geomagnetic storm.

A similar burst of galactic cosmic rays was recorded last year by GRAPES-3 muon telescope located at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research’s Cosmic Ray Laboratory in Ooty, a town in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

GRAPES-3 (Gamma Ray Astronomy PeV EnergieS phase-3) is a collaboration of Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and several Indian and Japanese institutes. It is designed to study cosmic rays with an array of air shower detectors and a large area muon detector; and it is the largest and most sensitive cosmic ray monitor operating on Earth.

The plasma which ejected from the solar corona moved at a speed of about 2.5 million km/hand struck Earth, causing a severe compression of Earth’s magnetosphere from 11 to 4 times the radius of the planet. The burst triggered a severe geomagnetic storm that generated aurora borealis and radio signal blackouts in many high latitude countries.

Earth’s magnetosphere is like a defence system protecting the Earth from the continuous flow of solar and galactic cosmic rays. Extending over a radius of millions of kilometres, the magnetosphere protects life on Earth from the high intensity energy radiations.

GRAPES-3 researches, including those by Pravata K Mohanty, performed numerical simulations, indicating that the Earth’s magnetic shield temporarily cracked due to the occurrence of magnetic reconnection, allowing the lower energy galactic cosmic ray particles to enter our atmosphere.

Earth’s magnetic field bent these particles about 180 degree, from the day-side to the night-side of the Earth where it was detected as a burst by the telescope.

An in-house team of physicists and engineers at the laboratory in Ooty analysed and interpreted the data through extensive simulation over several weeks.

Solar storms can cause major disruption to human civilisation by crippling large electrical power grids, global positioning systems (GPS), satellite operations and communications.

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